How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture
A January 17th New York Times editorial noted that Attorney General designate Eric Holder testified at his nomination hearings that when it came to overhauling the nation's interrogation rules for both the military and the CIA, the Army Field Manual represented "a good start." The editorial noted the vagueness of Holder's statement. Left unsaid was the question, if the AFM is only a "good start," what comes next?
The Times editorial writer never bothered to mention the fact that three years earlier, a different New York Times article introduced a new controversy regarding the rewrite of the Army Field Manual. The rewrite was inspired by a proposal by Senator John McCain to limit U.S. military and CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual. (McCain would later allow an exception for the CIA.)
According to the Times, a new set of classified procedures proposed for the manual was "was pushing the limits on legal interrogation." Anonymous military sources called the procedures "a back-door effort" to undermine McCain's efforts at the time to change U.S. abusive interrogation techniques, and stop the torture.
A Forgotten Controversy
Over the next six months or so, a number of articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times described the course of the controversy. By mid-June 2006, the Times was reporting that, under pressure from unnamed senior generals and members of Congress (including McCain, and Senators Warner and Graham), the Pentagon was rethinking its plan to have a classified annex to the AFM, which would include a different set of interrogation rules for "unlawful combatants," like the detainees at Guantanamo. Included in the discussion about these classified procedures were, reportedly, members of the State Department and various human rights organizations.
According to an article in the L.A. Times, this latest fight over the classified procedures went back at least to mid-May 2006. The manual itself had been written at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, roughly a year earlier, and then sent to the Pentagon for further evalution. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, was put in charge of its final draft. According the L.A. Times, members of Congress were "keen to avoid a public fight with the Pentagon." The announcement that the controversial and still unknown procedures might not be included in the manual was seen as a success by human rights groups.
Yet the proverbial chickens never hatched, and by early September 2006 the new Army Field Manual was finally released. The section on special interrogation procedures for "unlawful combatants" was included as a special appendix (Appendix M), and published in unclassified format. According to a L.A. Times story on September 8th, Cambone was crowing that the new Army Field Manual instructions would give interrogators "what they need to do the job." The article noted:
The new manual includes one restricted technique that will only be used on so-called unlawful combatants – such as Al Qaeda suspects -- not traditional prisoners of war.As for the proposed secrecy surrounding the new techniques, the Pentagon had decided it couldn't keep them secret forever. Senator Warner was also on record as against any classified annex to the manual.
That technique, called "separation," involves segregating a detainee from other prisoners. Military officials said separation was not the equivalent of solitary confinement and was consistent with Geneva Convention protections.
Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.
The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the "False Flag" technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of "Fear Up," a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner's existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create "new" fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.
One would think this turnaround of the Pentagon's position regarding a removal of these controversial procedures would have been a matter of some note. But there was no protest from Congress, no mention of the past controversy in the press, and only vague comments at first and then acceptance by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Only Physicians for Human Rights protested the inclusion of the techniques listed in Appendix M. For the rest ... silence.
DoD Rolls Out the New Model
On September 6, 2006, a news briefing was held by the Department of Defense, as part of the unveiling of the new Army Field Manual, in conjunction with the then-new Defense Department Directive for Detainee Programs (DoD Directive 2310.01E). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons were the DoD presenters.
Much of the belief that the AFM provides an improvement over previous policies of the Department of Defense is likely due to a confusion between the two documents introduced that summer of 2006, the new Detainee Program Directive and the new Army Field Manual.
DoD Directive 2310.10E made a number of changes in regards to detainee operations and management. It made clear that "All persons subject to this Directive shall observe the requirements of the law of war, and shall apply, without regard to a detainee's legal status, at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949..." The same type of language appears in the text of the Army Field Manual itself.
During the press briefing on September 6, and a different one the next day for the foreign press, reporters were not so easily fooled.
One unnamed reporter at the DoD briefing challenged Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the "single standard" issue:
Q: General, why was the decision made to keep these categories -- the separate categories of detainees? You have traditional prisoners of war and then the unlawful enemy combatants. Why not treat all detainees under U.S. military custody the exact same way?Kimmons's answer gives us insight into the kind of convoluted legal thinking that went into the Pentagon's rationale for the acceptability of coercive interrogation -- for some (emphasis added):
Gen. Kimmons: Well, actually, the distinction is in Geneva through the Geneva Convention, which describes the criteria that prisoner -- that lawful combatants, such as enemy prisoners of war -- which attributes they possess -- wearing a uniform, fighting for a government, bearing your arms openly and so on and so forth. And it's all spelled out fairly precisely inside Geneva.But Stimson's clarification was not very helpful. In fact, if a prisoner is judged not a "lawful combatant", then he or she immediately becomes covered by Geneva IV, the "Civilian Convention," which protects anyone "who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever find themselves" held prisoner. According to the International Red Cross Commentary on the Geneva Conventions:
Geneva also makes clear that traditional, unlawful combatants such as in the -- 50 years ago, we would have talked about spies and saboteurs, but also now applies to this new category of unlawful -- or new type of unlawful combatant, terrorists, al Qaeda, Taliban.
They clearly don't meet the criteria for prisoner of war status, lawful combatant status, and so they're not entitled to the -- therefore to the extra protections and privileges which Geneva affords.
Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third [POW] Convention, [or] a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention.... There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law.Separation and Sensory Deprivation
One questioner took on the topic of the "Separation" technique. Wasn't it the same as solitary confinement, and wasn't solitary confinement "banned by Common Article 3 in the affront to human dignity, other provisions? "Are you confident," a reporter asked, "that separation is permitted under Common Article 3?"
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs responded by denying that separation amounted to solitary confinement, even though the AFM describes the technique as, among other things "physical separation" "limited to 30 days of initial duration." Extensions for such physical separation must be reviewed and approved the General Officer or Flag Officer who initially approved the original "separation."
Kimmons' reply was even more disingenuous:
We have always segregated enemy combatants on the battlefield at the point of capture and beyond, to keep them silent, segregate the officers from the enlisted, the men from the women, and so forth. That's traditional; it goes back to World War II and beyond.So, is "separation" a matter of segregating prisoners, or what? In the Army Field Manual itself, one gets that same kind of double talk. At first it is presented thus:
The purpose of separation is to deny the detainee the opportunity to communicate with other detainees in order to keep him from learning counter-resistance techniques or gathering new information to support a cover story; decreasing the detainee's resistance to interrogation.This description sounds a lot like segregation for security purposes, although there is that phrase "decreasing the detainee's resistance." A page or so later, however, we find the following (emphasis added):
The use of separation should not be confused with the detainee-handling techniques approved in Appendix D [Guide for Handling Detainees]. Specifically, the use of segregation during prisoner handling (Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed, Safeguard, and Tag [5 S's and a T]) should not be confused with the use of separation as a restricted interrogation technique.Furthermore, we learn that "separation" requires an interrogation plan, and medical and legal review, as well, of course, as "physical separation." If this is not solitary confinement for the purposes of breaking a prisoner down for interrogation, then the English language has lost all purpose in explaining things.
Another line of questioning took on the AFM's contention that it banned sensory deprivation. The entire exchange at the September 6 hearing is worth reproducing here. It represents, among other things, the most thorough line of inquiry I have seen by any reporter in quite some time. The following quote contains added emphases.
Q: General, as an expert in interrogations, do you believe that sensory deprivation was abusive, or did it ever prove to be helpful in interrogation?This is really too specific and challenging for the DoD briefers, and they turn on their double-talk machine:
Gen. Kimmons: Sensory deprivation is abusive and it's prohibited in this Field Manual, and it's absolutely counterproductive, in my understanding of what we have used productively. Sensory deprivation, just to be clear -- and we define it in the Field Manual, but basically, it comes down to the almost complete deprivation of all sensory stimuli, light, noise, and so forth, and to the point where it can have an adverse mental, psychological effect on a -- disorienting effect on a detainee.
Q: So could there be deprivation of light alone for extended periods of time, as opposed to complete sensory deprivation?
Gen. Kimmons: I think the total loss of an external stimulus, such as deprivation of light, would not fit what we have described here as -- for example, if you're hinting about separation, separation does not involve the darkness or lack of that type of sensory stimulation.
Q:That wasn't the question, though. Would sensory -- would the deprivation of light alone be permitted under the current manual, as opposed -- because you described sensory deprivation as total deprivation --
Gen. Kimmons: That's correction.
Q: -- of all senses. So deprivation of light alone for extended periods would be permitted?
Gen. Kimmons: I don't think the Field Manual explicitly addresses it.
It does not make it prohibited. And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment. If it was at nighttime during sleep hours, then it would make personal sense to turn the lights off.
Q:You know what I'm talking about. I'm trying to get at -- because you said specifically total sensory deprivation -- so deprivation of any one sense might be permitted. Like light, for example. They could be kept in the dark for extended periods of time beyond the usual nighttime hours.
Mr. Stimson: Jim, questions like this are good questions to ask. And what's important to remember is that interrogation plans are put together for a reason so that not just one person can decide what he or she wants to do and then run off and do it. They're vetted. It's laid out how they're vetted. General Kimmons could go into that in exhaustive detail. Typically, there would be a JAG, as I understand it, General Kimmons --Burying the Story
Gen. Kimmons: That's correct.
Mr. Stimson: -- that would have to review that. It goes up through various chains of command. And so, you know, types of questions like this would have to be asked and then vetted through that process.
With all the hard questioning by the press, you'd think the issues would have been aired in the media in the days and weeks following the introduction of the Army Field Manual. As should be evident by now, that's not what happened.
Here's how the L.A. Times covered it, getting the story exactly backwards (emphasis added):
Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.There is no mention of Appendix M or any controversy over techniques. Jumana Musa, an "advocacy director for Amnesty International, is quoted as noting, ""If the new field manual embraces the Geneva Convention, it is an important return to the rule of law.'"
The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards – one for traditional prisoners of war and another for "unlawful combatants" captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation's military force.
The article in the Washington Post was, if anything, even more laudatory of the new AFM:
Pentagon officials yesterday repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, specifically forbidding U.S. troops from using forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding to elicit information from detainees captured in ongoing wars.The article falsely claims the AFM bans manipulation of sleep patterns. Regarding any controversy, the article explains:
The Defense Department simultaneously embraced international humane treatment standards for all detainees in U.S. military custody, the first time there has been a uniform standard for both enemy prisoners of war and the so-called unlawful combatants linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
Three expanded techniques -- good cop, bad cop; pretending to be an official from another country; and detention in a separate cell from others -- are allowed but require approval from senior officers. Officials originally considered keeping those three techniques classified but decided to make them public for the sake of full transparency.The Post article also briefly mentioned the generally positive response of human rights groups:
"This is the Pentagon coming full circle," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This is very strong guidance."As for the human rights organizations, Amnesty International later essentially signed off on the AFM. In an article from the Winter 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine, Jumana Musa, quoted in the L.A. Times article above, had this to say about the new AFM:
AIUSA also worked with U.S. representatives and senators to introduce legislation to create a single, transparent standard for interrogations and to limit the CIA to approved interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.In a telephone interview for this article, Mr. Malinowski said he supported using the Army Field Manual as a replacement for the CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques," and described the question of abuse in Appendix M as not entirely clear. He maintained, however, that the current Army Field Manual was merely a start, and that a new overhaul of interrogation techniques was on the agenda.
A call made to Amnesty International's press contact regarding this issue, and an e-mail sent to Jumana Musa, were both unreturned.
The truth behind the Army Field Manual is more important than ever
Two conclusions can be drawn from the above examination of the "selling" of the Army Field Manual to the American public in the late summer of 2006 and beyond. One is that reporters on the beat were very aware of the origins and implications of the issues surrounding Geneva and the AFM, and the controversies surrounding the use of isolation and other techniques under the rubric of "Separation." The extremely muted or non-existent discussion in the mainstream press of these issues after the AFM was introduced means that a decision to suppress these issues was made at an editorial level, and were not the result of laziness or dilatory reporting on behalf of reporters.
Secondly, the role of some human rights organizations in promoting the new Army Field Manual -- in particular, the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch -- are curious, to say the least. Press reports and the interview with Malinowski show that inclusion of certain human rights organizations in the vetting of the AFM started at the very beginning. We may not be able to find out what went on in the editorial offices of the nation's top newspapers, but we should know more about the discussions within the human rights organizations on how they advised, or were fooled, by talks with Bush administration and Pentagon personnel.
Meanwhile, other human rights organizations, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the language and techniques described in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and called for rescission of the offending text. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May 2007, Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, former Commanding General of the Southeast Regional U.S. Army Medical Command, wrote:
The new Army Field Manual on human intelligence gathering... explicitly prohibits several SERE-based techniques, yet Appendix M of the manual explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation. The manual is silent on a number of other SERE-based methods, creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine....It seems likely that the Army Field Manual, whether by executive order (most likely) or by legislation, will become the new "single standard" for U.S. interrogation. Press reports hint that the Obama administration may yet allow a loophole for CIA interrogators.
PHR, therefore, respectfully urges you to take the following actions:
1. Fully implement the OIG's recommendation to "preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques" in all interrogations. (Id, pp. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.
In any case, the full history and controversy behind torture and U.S. interrogation policy deserves a full airing. What happened, for instance, between June and September 2006, allowing for Pentagon acceptance of the Appendix M abusive procedures? When it comes to the implementation of a host of torture and cruel, inhumane interrogation techniques by the U.S. government, both an investigation and prosecutions are needed.
It will be a challenge for our society to bring out the full story, while also bringing to justice those individuals who broke both domestic law and international treaty. We will need both investigations and prosecutions in order settle scores with the past, to understand where we stand now, and what we need to change to move forward.